By Larz F. Neilson
In the 1960s, it was not uncommon for young men to be drafted into the military, and for others to try to avoid the draft.
Jim Demos ran into a different kind of draft problem in 1963. He and his wife went to Greece on a five-week vacation, and the Greek army tried to draft him.
Faced with many men trying to escape the draft, Greece, in April 1963, passed a law saying that if you were Greek, you had to serve two years in the army. The law took effect on July 1, 1963.
Nine days later, when Jim and Elinor arrived in Athens, authorities stamped his passport saying that he could not leave the country. He spent the first nine days of his vacation in draft hell, so to speak.
Jim’s parents had come to the U.S. from Greece in the early 1930s, settling in Cambridge, and it was there that he was born in 1934. They went back to Greece in 1939, and were caught up in World War II. Jim’s mother died. The Nazis, who had it on record that he owned a shotgun, picked up his father. He told them that the Greek government had confiscated it, but the Nazis would not release him.
Jim and his brother lived through World War II as virtual orphans on the streets of Athens. After the war, some Communists picked them up. One song that the Communists had played was set to the tune of “Oh! Susanna”.
They were eventually reunited with their father and returned to the U.S. in 1946.
The boys were illiterate when they arrived back in the United States where they were enrolled in the Cambridge schools.
At one point, the song “Oh! Susanna” was played in school. Jim and his brother looked at each other, saying, “They’re here!”
Jim excelled in football, making the varsity team in his freshman year. Being small, he could scoot through the line and hit in the opponent’s backfield. He earned the nickname, the “Greek submarine.” In his junior year, he was elected class vice-president.
Jim attended Suffolk University, and in 1958, he was hired to teach special education in Wilmington. He and Elinor moved to Wilmington in 1961.
Two years later, they went to Greece on vacation. But when they arrived in Athens, his passport was stamped with a notice that he was not to leave the country. He was given a draft notice and was told to report to the Greek draft board. He tried to explain that he was an American-born citizen, not a Greek subject, but the authorities would not listen.
A friend who accompanied the couple on the trip was also given a draft notice.
The next day, the two men went to the American Embassy, only to be told that they were in a mess, and the embassy could not help. The law said that anyone with a Greek name was a Greek subject, and could be drafted. Although it was written to apply to draft dodgers, it apparently was also being applied to tourists - and Demos and his friend were among the first to be snagged by it. The man at the embassy, Mr. V, said the two men would have to resolve it themselves at the Greek Pentagon.
At the Pentagon, Demos had to get in line and go through checkpoints to get a pass. Then he was sent to a room full of people, all pushing and shoving in an effort to have their problems heard. After a half an hour, Jim was finally able to speak to the officer. Jim explained his situation.
The officer threw down his passport, ignored him, and continued to hear problems of other people. Demos stood there and refused to leave.
Finally the officer shouted at him that even though he was American-born, he was still a Greek subject, and that he could not leave until he had fulfilled his military obligation. He told Jim to go to the town where his father was born and sign up for the draft.
Jim responded that he would not sign any papers, and that his American passport stated that he might lose his US nationality if he served in the armed forces of a foreign state.
The officer shouted back that he was to do as ordered, and that he had no choice. Then he said that after Jim signed up for the draft, he would be allowed to leave without any active duty, but that he would have to pay for his two years service.
In other words, this was all about money.
He returned to the American Embassy and was told that if he got a lawyer, and could prove that he had been out of Greece for 10 years prior to his draft age, this would exempt him. Demos did not want to do that.
So he was sent to a Mr. K, a counselor in the embassy, who was to give him a letter stating that he (Demos) did not fall under the Greek draft law, and that he was not a Greek draft dodger. However, Mr. K refused. He did not believe that Demos was an American-born citizen. Even when shown embassy records showing that the boys had left on Feb. 2, 1946 on the SS Gripsholu with US passports, he said no. Demos showed him his present passport, a copy of his birth certificate from Cambridge, Mass., his Mass. driver’s license and his international driver’s license, issued in the US. With all those documents, Mr. K still would not believe Demos was an American.
Demos asked Mr. K what he needed to do to prove he was an American citizen. He wanted Demos to write to the IRS for his income tax returns, to the Cambridge School Department for a record of his attending school in the U.S., and to the parish priest, who was to send his church records with the seal of the church, backed up by a seal from Cambridge City Hall, and also a letter of approval from the Greek consulate in Boston.
Demos sent a telegram to his brother to get working on all that information.
Mr. V sent him to the head of the Greek Registry of Police, which had records of people entering and leaving the country. He could probably get a letter there with the information he needed, and which Mr. K refused to do. But first Demos had to write a letter then take it to a typing office to have it translated.
That done, Demos took the letter to the Registry, which wouldn’t accept it. They sent him to another department for a permission slip for him to receive the information. Then came another two-day run-around, getting stamps of approval.
On the third day, Demos finally got the information, which Mr. K could have given him in one hour. Demos took it to Mr. V who told him to take it the Pentagon.
This was his third trip to the Pentagon. He was delayed until almost closing time, but he did get approval to leave the country. The nine-day ordeal was over.
If you think that the Demoses doubted they would ever visit Greece again, you are right. In his account of the ordeal, published in the Town Crier on Sept. 12, 1963, that is what Jim wrote. However, they have gone back three times. The next visit was only two years later. They flew to London, bought a car, and drove through Europe. In Athens, they were caught in the middle of a riot against the Greek government. Rioters were rocking the car, and someone threw a poster of the prime minister on the windshield. It then was thrown on the ground. Demos’ friend picked it up, and they managed to make their way out of the crowd.
Demos has had a lifelong commitment to education. He earned a Master’s Degree at Salem State College and a Doctorate at Boston College. He taught for eight years in the Wilmington and Chelmsford school systems. For four years, he was the executive director of alternative education and rehabilitation for the Greater Lowell Association for Retarded Citizens. For more than ten years, he was the administrator for special education for the cities of Lowell and Medford. In Wilmington, he served 15 years on the Wilmington School Committee, where he was known as a strong advocate for special education. Jim and Elinor raised three children. He is now retired.